For the fifth time in as many years, South Lakes fell to Westfield in the VHSL 6A playoffs Friday.
As has been the case at several points in the season, self-inflicted mistakes stalled promising South Lakes drives and directly resulted in Westfield points. The offensive line was able to give quarterback Marcus Miles time in the pocket and allowed James Earl to have a solid night running the ball but whether it was an interception, a dropped pass, or the uncharacteristic fumble, the South Lakes offense was unable to get into a rhythm.
Defensively, there were times when South Lakes limited the Westfield offense, but an incorrect read on the second play of the game resulted in a Bulldog receiver getting free and snagging a 64-yard pass for the first points of the night. Two more quick strikes by the Bulldogs had the Seahawks down by three scores by the second quarter.
“I kept looking at the scoreboard and it didn’t feel the score dictated what was happening on the field”, coach Jason Hescock said post-game. “At pivotal moments we didn’t execute or had a lapse in focus – they [Westfield] are a great team but some of the errors felt like growing pains in understanding parts of our system. We will learn a lot from watching this film – not to harp on the mistakes – but to show how to play when you face teams like this at this time of year.” The final game stats would bolster Hescock’s observation as 110 of the Bulldog’s 196 passing yards came on just two plays. There was only a 30-yard difference in the rushing totals between the teams.
As the second quarter drew to a close and down 21-0, South Lakes had the ball on Westfield’s 4-yard line and opted to run a play on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal. “We knew we would get the ball to start the second half so at that moment we wanted to try and change the complexion of the game and gain confidence by getting in the end zone.” However, a low snap on the play disrupted the timing of the offense and Westfield was able to keep the visitors off the board headed into halftime. The second half saw South Lakes bottle up the run game of Westfield but could not get the Bulldogs off the field on key third or fourth down situations. Offensively South Lakes continued to struggle and made mistakes as they pressed to find the end zone. The final score was 42-0.
Although the season ended sooner than planned, the accomplishments of the program cannot be overlooked. With a different head coach three consecutive seasons, many programs would have used the change as an excuse for poor results, yet South Lakes continued its run of five straight years with post-season play beyond the first round. For the Class of 2020 it was a final chance to beat the one team at the one field that has been a roadblock since they suited up to represent their school and community – that task now falls to the Class of 2021.
Looking back at his first year as head coach, Jason Hescock embraced the program and its players. “It’s heartbreaking for the seniors. I’m really proud of everything that they went through. To the best of their ability, they did the best they could. Every one of them got better and that’s the goal. Hopefully, they are proud of the work they did this year. I told the seniors you’re done playing football here but you are not done impacting the program – you’ll still be in the halls and the weight room and you can show the younger players how to train and prepare to get a better result next year."